Tuesday 3 February 2015

Mortdecai (2015) - Movie Review

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more versatile actor working today than Johnny Depp. Yeah, he’ll have a couple of auto-pilot roles like in The Tourist with Angelina Jolie, but when he’s on-point he can transform himself on screen: Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, Ed Wood, even Guy Lapointe; say what you will about the quality of the writing for each of these roles, and it is varied between them no doubt, but these alone show the kind of range that some actors would give all their Golden Globes to get. But even the best of actors can appear in duds; how does he follow up his spellbindingly bizarre performance as Lapointe in Tusk?

The plot: Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is a faux-aristocratic art dealer on the verge of bankruptcy. His friend Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), in exchange for continuing to turn a blind eye to his shadier dealings as well as help scrub his financial debt, enlists Mortdecai to help recover a Goya painting that was stolen from a restorer. With the help of his manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) and the ire of his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), he sets out to recover the painting, even if he may have his own plans for it.

Immediately upon seeing Johnny Depp’s performance in the trailer, one thing sprang to the mind: British store-brand Inspector Clouseau. Not even the real Clouseau at that, but rather the Steve Martin abomination claiming to be him. I went into this film with the preconception that we were going to see a lot of unfunny upward failing, and that is exactly what we get concerning his character. He’s meant to pull off a lot of mock charm, in that he isn’t actually as clever or useful as he thinks he is but he’s still charming in spite of it, or perhaps even because of it. Here though, fake or not, he has the charm and likeability of curdled milk.

Not that the rest of the cast do much better, though. Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor are just average in their roles, not doing a whole lot to stand out or engage; I will admit that McGregor does get a couple of funny quips here and there, which is far more than Depp is given in this movie, and he has the right delivery to make the little good material he gets count. The biggest offence in terms of the cast, even considering Johnny Depp’s rather woeful portrayal here, is Jeff Goldblum. Yeah, Jeff "Brundlefly" Goldblum is in this movie as American art dealer Milton Krampf and he is completely wasted here. None of his awkward deliveries or adorkable qualities are on display here and he manages all of one decent line in the whole running time. This is stunt casting if ever I saw it; big pile of shit, indeed.

Easily, the stand-out in the cast is Paul Bettany as Jock, who is pretty damn good here. He carries his role with some decent blunt delivery of his dialogue that adds on some laughs, nice chemistry with Depp that at least makes the obvious contrast work as well as can be expected, and his fight scenes may be short but fun all the same. Hell, at times it seems like his character is self-aware and knows how crap the movie he’s in is, like when he gets very visibly irritated at a running gag of Mortdecai of asking him "Will it be alright in the end?" numerous times throughout the film. When all of this adds up together, we get a character who should have been reserved for a better film. Actually, they wouldn’t even need to go that far; just change the framing so that the focus of the story is Jock as the main character instead. As it stands, however, he is the only character worth watching in this movie.

Rarely do I see/hear a writing that is this devoid of laughter. Then again, give a man a running gag about how bad the main character’s moustache looks and it’s unlikely that he can salvage it. Well, unless your name is Edgar Wright and even then I’d be sceptical until I saw it with my own eyes. Aside from the dumb running gags, this film tries its hardest to have some witty repartee between the characters but instead it comes across more like the personification of wit put out a restraining order on the cast and crew. When The Wedding Ringer is getting more laughs than your movie, there might be a few things you have to think over as a filmmaker. Not that the sucky writing is limited to just the dialogue, however, as the plot is plodding and never latches on to the audience, instead just pulls them along for the ride like a dog on its leash. It might have helped if every scene didn’t go by the numbers depending on which characters were on-screen, but then again that is a bit beyond this film. Oh, and as an added bonus, they somehow managed to get Mark Ronson, a serious musical heavyweight in my books, and make his music sound dull to the point where I physically can’t recall a single track. At least in other films, even those far worse than this, I was able to recollect some kind of rhythm from the soundtrack. Thankfully, the rest of the world is busy focusing on Uptown Funk to even pay any attention to his work here, so hopefully no-one will notice the weaksauce at play here.

All in all, this is a bad movie by all accounts but it’s bad in all of the boring ways, in that it isn’t even worth it for the crap factor. The only thing that makes this tepid display of humour-like run-off watchable is Paul Bettany, who at least gives us some consistent entertainment either through the action scenes or the dry delivery of his lines. Fortunately, he’ll get the chance to be in something of quality later this year as he’s going to be playing The Vision in Avengers: Age Of Ultron; there is some justice in this world.

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